Sermon Discussion Questions
1. Read through 1 Cor 10:1-14 together. What questions do you have? What stood out?
2. Why is Paul wanting to draw connections between Israel and the Church?
3. Read 1 Cor 10:12. What might lead someone to "think that they stand"? What is Paul wanting us to "take heed" of here?
4. What are you most helped by from 1 Cor 10:13?
5. Split up by men and women and then share with each other places where you have not been heeding the warning Paul gives us here, and then pray for each other.
Sometimes experience is the best teacher. How many times did our parents tell us, “If you do X life will be so hard for you.” And yet, when X presents itself, our parents’ words no longer hold any weight. So, good parents--when your child is young—discipline them with consequences to teach them, to give them a little taste of what the pain of disobedience so they learn early on and are spared from swallowing the much larger, bitter pill of disobedience when they are older.
Well, I was a child who needed some help in learning that lesson. When I was four or five, my dad had bought my mom some ferns as a Mother’s Day present and planted them in our front yard. One day my dad came home to find one of the ferns looking like someone had attacked it with a stick. So, he lined all the kids up and asked if anyone had been done anything to mom’s ferns, explained how expensive they were, how much they meant to Mom, how hard it was already for them to grow, and on and on. No one confessed, no one admitted.
The next day, my dad found another fern looking similarly haggard and mistreated. Again, he lined us up, and again no one said anything. The day after that, my dad pulled into the driveway and saw the perpetrator: his sweet, little boy flogging the last fern mercilessly, just reducing it down to a bare green nub sticking out of the ground. So, my dad, thought through the best options of how to turn this into a good teaching moment and (I’m sure with no illegitimate anger in his heart whatsoever!) decided to quietly sneak up behind me. Right as I raised my arm back to deliver another blow to the fern—to my horror—he snatched the switch out of my hand, and used it on me instead, chasing me back into the house, lashing my rear end every few steps.
Now, whether you think that was a good or bad parenting move—I’m not entirely sure myself—I learned a valuable lesson that day, as did all my siblings. When you disobey mom and dad, it won’t go well for you. And if you repeatedly lie about it, it really won’t go well for you. Experience was a good teacher that day. But, it was an even better teacher for my siblings because they were able to learn the lesson but with none of the pain! They saw my example and thought to themselves, Let’s not be like our brother.
In our text today, Paul is going to point to another example, an example we can learn from and, if we do, be spared of great pain.
For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 and all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.
6 Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. 7 Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” 8 We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. 9 We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, 10 nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. 11 Now these things happened to them as an example but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. 12 Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. 13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. 14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.
- 1 Cor 10:1-14
Paul is concerned for the Corinthian church, and so to illustrate that concern he turns to the story of Israel and reminds the church that they are a part of that same story.
For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 and all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. (1 Cor 10:1-4)
There are several things in this entire section that stretch us in our familiarity with the story of the Old Testament. We won’t be able to look at everything, but we see that Paul zeroes in specifically on the story of the Exodus and the journey in the wilderness.
Israel had been enslaved by the Egyptians for four-hundred years when God raised up Moses to lead His people out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. The story is filled with fantastic displays of God’s miraculous power to overcome any obstacle that stands in the way of delivering His people. Pharaoh won’t let the people go? God sends the plagues to break Pharaoh’s pride. Israel doesn’t know where to go? God guides them with a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night. The Red Sea blocks their path? God parts it. They have no food? God makes bread fall from heaven. They have no water? God brings water out of the rock. The story of the Exodus is a story of God’s incredible power and incredible faithfulness to His promises. He cares for His children, for His people, Israel.
And Paul is tapping into that story here…why? Paul is wanting to demonstrate to the Corinthians that—despite most of them being Gentiles themselves—they need to understand themselves as being an integral part of Israel’s story. How does he do that?
First, he describes the Exodus generation to the Corinthians in verse one as “our fathers.” Christian, you should think about Old Testament Israel as part of your heritage, though you are not a genealogical descendant of Abraham—now by faith in Jesus Christ, you are a son of Abraham (Rom 4:16-17).
Second, Paul draws a connection between Israel and the Church by showing that Israel experienced, in a way, the ordinances of the Church. He describes them as being “baptized” into Moses as they passed through the Red Sea, and as sharing a spiritual food and drink (manna, water from the rock) analogous to the Lord’s Supper. Of course, it isn’t a one-for-one parallel, but that isn’t Paul’s point—he is just trying to show you that they too have received something similar to what we have received.
Third, Paul shows that Israel had faith in Jesus Christ. Look in verse 9, “We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents,” (1 Cor 10:9). We will return to this verse in our point, but here we see Paul assume that when Israel rebels against the Lord, they are rebelling against Jesus Christ (cf. Jude 5). The God of the Old Testament is the same God of the New Testament. God does something radically new in taking on flesh, becoming a real human being in the New Testament. But it is the same person.
This explains Paul’s seemingly strange remark in verse 4, “For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.” This is taking two threads from the Old Testament and weaving them together. In the Old Testament, God is often described as a Rock, “The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he,” (Deut 32:4; cf. 32:15, 18, 30, 31, 37; Ps 18:2, 31; Isa 30:29; Hab 1:12; 1 Sam 2:2; 2 Sam 22:2). When Paul says that “the Rock was Christ,” he is inviting you to see that the God of the Old Testament is none other than the person Jesus Christ.
But it is even cooler than that. The second thread this verse is pulling on is the story of the water flowing from a rock on Mount Horeb. Shortly into their journey to Mount Sinai, the people begin to complain that Moses has led them to a place with no water, so Moses prays, and the Lord answers:
“And the LORD said to Moses, “Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.” And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel,” (Ex 17:5-6).
Now, Paul is a perceptive Bible reader. Here is what he picks up. He knows that God is frequently—especially by Moses—called a Rock. And here, in this story, Yahweh tells Moses to strike the rock with his staff—the “staff with which you struck the Nile,” where water was turned into blood—and life-giving water will come out. But, perhaps Paul caught the little phrase where God, right before Moses strikes the rock, says, “I will stand before you, lit. in front of you, on the rock.” The place that is about to be smitten by the staff of judgment is where God Himself will be standing. He will be struck. God Himself will be smitten by Moses, the Law-giver, so that His people, Law-breakers, will not die, but live.
Jesus taught us that He, Himself, had living water to give (John 4:14) and that if anyone who thirsts would come to him, He would supply rivers of flowing water (John 7:37-38). On the cross, when a Roman soldier thrust a spear into His side to make sure Jesus was dead, what flowed out? Blood and water (John 19:34). In a seemingly strange story of Moses striking a rock, we have a picture of the gospel itself: God Himself taking the strike of judgment, the penalty of the Law we deserve, so that He can provide life for us.
Paul’s point here: our story grows organically out of Israel’s story; they are our fathers, they had a baptism (of sorts), a Lord’s Supper (of sorts). They worshipped the same God we worship, and they had the same gospel, in its shadowed form, presented to them.
But, Paul is reminding us of this connection with Israel to primarily serve as a warning.
“Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness,” (1 Cor 10:5).
There may be no other generation in the whole Bible who had received more evidence of God’s presence, faithfulness, commitment, and power, than the Exodus generation. Think of what they saw! They saw the ten plagues; the pillar of cloud by day, fire by night; they saw the Red Sea split in two and walked through on dry land; they saw bread fall from the sky and feed them; they saw water from the rock; they heard God’s voice at Mount Sinai! And on, and on we could go. And when we read those stories, we think: Man! I wish I could have seen that! My faith would be so much stronger if I could see just one of those miracles! Their faith must have been so strong!
But it wasn’t. By the time they reach the edge of the land God had promised them, the entire generation—except for Moses, Aaron, Joshua, and Caleb—all of them disbelieve, and so they are forbidden from entering the Promised Land and perish in the wilderness, and their children go in to the Promised Land. Their doubt and disbelief have put a sour slant on every miracle through wilderness, so that they are not saying, “Can you believe God provided water from the Rock?” They are saying, “Why does God keep bringing us into these places where there is no water? Why does He keep waiting till the last minute to provide so that we are just barely saved from death?”
Therein lies a good lesson for us. A faith-filled person and faithless person can both experience the same event, and one see how God has provided, and another see how God hasn’t done enough. Same event, same data, totally different responses. Do you tend to have a pessimistic disposition? We all have different temperaments, and we don’t all need to be Disney characters in our optimism. There is a place for a healthy skepticism, for being wise and realistic. But any don’t be so committed to viewing the glass half-empty that you miss the joy of how God has provided for you; don’t be so fixated on what is wrong that you fail to see what God is doing.
But Paul’s primary warning, and the reason he is bringing all of this up, is to show us that we cannot bank on the external, outward signs of religion as our certainty that everything is right between us and God. That’s why Paul drew the connections between Israel and the Church in the first point. If anyone in the church is wondering: how do I know that I am on the right path in my faith? And if they point to the fact that they were baptized, Paul says, Well, Israel had a baptism of sorts too. Or if they point to taking the Lord’s Supper, Paul says, Israel had a spiritual meal too. And yet, they were destroyed, overthrown in the wilderness.
A man may sooner climb to the moon with a rope of sand, George Whitefield said, than attain Heaven through external religious duties. Being baptized and taking the Lord’s Supper are wonderful blessings, but they are empty shells and meaningless acts if they are not animated by real saving faith. They are clothes, but not bodies.
Israel’s problem was that they were like coffins going through a car wash—many blessings poured on them externally, but inside, in their hearts, they were dead—as Paul explains:
“Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did,” (1 Cor 10:6).
Paul lists off several examples of their desire for evil: idolatry and the golden calf (1 Cor 10:7; cf. Ex 32); sexual immorality (1 Cor 10:8; cf. Num 25); lack of trust (1 Cor 10:9; cf. Num 21); and complaining (1 Cor 10:10; cf. Num 14). And the repeated refrain through all of these examples is the end result: they were destroyed. What is the end result of a heart whose GPS system is set on evil? Destruction. And Paul says, these things took places as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.
“Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come,” (1 Cor 10:11). Don’t read the story of the wilderness generation and think: Well, that was Old Testament Israel—we’re different. There is difference, we are under the new covenant, we are those “on whom the end of the ages has come,” yes. But, Paul’s point is: don’t ignore this example! Learn from their mistake, don’t walk the same path. Don’t assume that you aren’t capable of destroying your own life.
12 Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall,” (1 Cor 10:12).
The most dangerous place to be, spiritually, is to assume that you can’t fall. To assume that you are bulletproof. To listen to the story of Israel and say, I would never do that. Maybe Satan will give up on luring you into more embarrassing sins of the prostitute and tax-collector because he wants to solidify you in the more deadly invisible sins of the Pharisees.
In our Discipleship Class we have been talking about Perseverance of the Saints, and I’d invite you to listen to the lesson from this morning, and attend the next class in two Sundays. But let me say this as briefly as I can: all of God’s elect will be saved and will not fall away. But one of the ways that God sovereignly keeps His children is by warning them. Paul is warning us here, and all of us who are filled with the Holy Spirit respond by saying, “I don’t want to be destroyed,” and we heed the warning. But if we hear the warning and say, “This is silly, are you threatening me with hell? What kind of religion is this?” Then we prove that we are not one of Jesus’ sheep. Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice, the reason you do not believe, is that you are not my sheep,” (par. John 10:26-27).
“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry,” (1 Cor 10:13-14).
Many encouragements can be drawn from this.
One, Christians wrestle with sin.
If you hear the warning to not desire evil in the previous point, and then think about your own heart honestly, you realize: Oh no! I desire evil! The only reason that any of us sin is that, in some way, we desire evil! But here Paul shows us that in this life we are not spared from the presence of temptation. If Paul commands us to “flee from idolatry” that means that we are going to be tempted to do it! If we weren’t tempted, he wouldn’t need to tell us to flee from it. The sin you are wrestling with and feel so tempted by is not in of itself a sign that you lack faith—Christians wrestle with sin and temptation. And sometimes, Christians fail, give in.
“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous,” (1 John 2:1).
We won’t be sinless till God brings us home. But the point here is: what is your orientation towards sin? Is sin your master?
Two, you don’t have to sin.
At one point, Christian, prior to your salvation, sin was your master. You couldn’t not sin. But now? Now that you have believed the gospel and the Holy Spirit has given you a new heart, a new nature, now, you are don’t have to sin. Satan and your flesh and the world want to convince you otherwise. They want you to feel like: This is just who I am…this temptation is irresistible, I can’t say no, I never say no, it is just impossible for me to avoid this. But that isn’t true. No temptation has ever come across your path that surpassed your ability to say: “No.” Paul says that God won’t let you be tempted beyond your ability. Which means that every temptation to lust, to anger, to anxiety, to laziness, to self-righteousness…all of it has first been investigated by God, passed through His hands to be scrutinized to see whether or not you could handle it. And with every temptation God has provided a way of escape. Your phone rings at the right moment, someone walks into the room, or just the thought, “What am I doing right now?” passes through your mind. God is pointing you to the fire escape in the burning building. You can put to death the deeds of the flesh by the Spirit (Rom 8:13) and you will live! You can endure temptation, you can!
And you may say, “But Marc, this is hard! It doesn’t feel easy, it doesn’t feel like I am always able to see that escape.” I know, and that brings us to the last encouragement.
Three, God is faithful.
In the middle of Paul’s encouragement: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability,” (1 Cor 10:13).
Your ability to persevere through temptation does not depend on your faithfulness, but God’s. If Paul hangs his confidence on why we can endure temptation without giving in on God’s faithfulness, that means that when we are enduring the storm of temptation what do we need? We need to remember that God is faithful, God can be trusted in. When we capitulate and give in, we have just said: I can’t trust God, He isn’t trustworthy.
So, what do we need? We need to be reminded of God’s faithfulness. What has God done to show us His faithfulness?
We could look at how from eternity past God has predestined us to be adopted into His family. We could look at how He has called us and drawn us to Himself, given us the very faith we have in the first place. We could look at how He has provided for us and sustained us in this life, given us His own presence, given us a family in the Church, given us our daily bread, given us His Word, given us the bright hope of heaven awaiting us. But most of all, He has revealed His faithfulness in contrast to our faithlessness.
It makes sense to be faithful to someone who is faithful. You show up to help those who are deserving of it—that’s natural. Yet, the Bible tells us that if we are faithless, he remains faithful (2 Tim 2:13). God is not reserving His help those who help themselves; His help is sent especially to those who fail. Jesus’ death on the cross is an everlasting emblem of God’s faithfulness, despite our faithlessness. It is our faithlessness that put Him there! Yet, He remains faithful; He will be struck, cleft in two, by the judgment we deserve, so that we who deserved to be crushed, would instead be given life. If you haven’t yet put your faith in this God, why not do it now?
If you are a Christian, then see how God’s faithfulness becomes the ground for your faithfulness. Once you see that God can be trusted no matter what, that becomes the ground for you, in your heart of hearts, to genuinely believe: I can trust God. I can trust that He will not permit me to be tempted beyond my ability, but will grant me a way of escape.